These days, you can do some pretty impressive things with content. However, you’re not the only one using content to win the attention and mindshare of audiences. Thanks to the success that content marketing has seen over the years, there’s a lot (and we mean a lot) of competition out there. For example, there are over 4.2 million blogs written each day. Pair that with the nearly 1.8 billion websites out there — and you have a lot of content to contend with.
To break through the noise, you need to add some horsepower to your content marketing efforts by incorporating visual content. To help you do this effectively, it’s important to know the what, why, and how behind it.
In this article, we’ll address the following:
- What is visual content marketing?
- Why is visual content marketing important?
- And what does successful visual content marketing look like?
What is visual content marketing?
Visual content marketing is a strategic marketing approach that uses visual assets to engage, inform, or influence a specific action or reaction from an audience. Visual content marketing goes beyond the mere presence of a photo, design element, or other visual asset. It’s more intentional than that. It uses sight, or even motion, in a way that supercharges a marketing message with more meaning and impact.
To help make this definition more tangible, let’s look at two (somewhat overlapping and often interchangeable) elements that enable visual content marketing: visual assets and visual content.
- Visual assets are digital elements like videos, memes, diagrams, GIFs, screenshots, photography, or images. In their own right, many of these individual assets are visual content. For example, a video is a stand-alone asset. But, it can also hold its own as relevant, informative visual content. A brand logo is a visual asset, but technically it’s not considered “visual content” unless it’s utilized in a way that adds value for your audience.
- Visual content is a visual asset or a combination of visual assets that are leveraged to create visually-driven or visually-supported materials or resources, such as infographics, a product brochure, or even a slide presentation. Visual content does not mean the content is 100% visual in nature — there’s often text it’s supporting. And you guessed it, visual content is also a visual asset.
Nuanced, yes. However, the point is that both your visual assets and visual content are the building blocks that enable visual content marketing and power your efforts.
Visual assets and visual content both play a big part in your marketing. This graphic illustrates how they work together and how some deliverables can be both!
Why is visual content marketing important?
Throughout the marketing lifecycle — as your audience moves from prospect to customer to advocate — visual content plays an increasingly important role. As discussed, it’s noisy out there. Digital channels are inundated. New competitors are constantly surfacing. And audiences don’t know where to focus their attention, spend, and loyalty.
Visual content marketing helps you break through the noise at any stage in the customer journey. It helps you attract and keep the attention of your audiences. And once you have this attention, it helps you appeal to your audiences’ senses and establish authentic, lasting connections that keep them coming back and advocating for your business. But why? What is it about visual content that has this powerful effect?
Why visual content is so effective
We know that the right visual content marketing efforts work because we see it in the content analytics. Not surprisingly, we aren’t the only organization that sees the benefits of visual content. In our 2020 Widen Connectivity Report we surveyed or interviewed over 300 marketing and creative professionals. Nearly all respondents (98%) say quality visual design in marketing content enables stronger relationships with audiences. Furthermore, this group indicated that the number one area they see an impact with their visual content is in their audiences’ positive perception of products and services. And go figure, there’s actually some science behind all this success:
- Humans are “wired” for visuals. Vision is our dominant sense. Our eyes hold roughly 70% of the body’s sensory receptors, which means the brain processes, interprets, and “feels” visual content faster and with more strength than content that does not appeal to our sense of sight, like text. This gives visual content the cognitive advantage. Done right, it can help you win audience attention, hold it, and establish deeper emotional connections.
- Scanning is basic human behavior. Nielsen Norman Group, a user-behavior research firm, has conducted eye-tracking studies since the dawn of the internet. Early research shows that web page visitors likely only read 20% of the words on the page, a finding that still holds up to this day. Visual assets are a way around this hurdle, as they help you break up text-heavy content so it’s more digestible, engaging, and scannable.
- Visuals trigger emotions. Visual memory is encoded in the brain in the same place emotions are processed. They’re essentially roommates, which means your visual content is more likely to elicit an emotional response from your audiences, which helps you establish connections, better shape opinions, and inspire action.
- Visuals are a straight shot to long-term memory. Retention and memorability are important for marketing. If you can leave a lasting impression and improve the likelihood that people will remember your message and your brand, wouldn’t you? According to visual literacy expert Dr. Lynell Burmark, visual content can help. “Words are processed by our short-term memory where we can only retain about seven bits of information (plus or minus two) … Images, on the other hand, go directly into long-term memory where they are indelibly etched.”
So there you have it. Science alone makes a pretty good case for incorporating visuals in your marketing efforts. But, as with everything, all is not created equal.
How do you succeed with visual content marketing?
To get the most out of your visual content marketing, you need a strategy and the right tools. A thoughtful strategy not only ensures you and your teams are working toward a shared goal, but it helps you focus on the right activities. Pair this strategic approach with the right tools, and your path to success will be that much smoother and faster.
Strategies for successful visual content marketing
Whether you have a dedicated visual content marketing strategy, or it’s part of your overall content marketing strategy, there are tips and best practices to consider that will help you maximize your visual content efforts. Here are a few to get you started:
- Document your strategy. Recent research from Content Marketing Institute revealed that 65% of the most successful content marketers have a documented strategy, versus 14% of the least successful. And this makes sense. Documenting your goals, success metrics, and how you will leverage your content and visuals holds you accountable and keeps everyone on your team working toward a shared goal.
- Be clear on the role of visuals. Your brand guidelines should address how people can and cannot use your visual assets. However, when thinking through your strategy, you also need to examine how visual assets and visual content can help you achieve your business goals. What visual content formats will you leverage? What themes can your visuals help bring to life? Ask yourself questions like these, and use the answers to inform your path forward.
- Identify your content niche, or the area of the market that you can own. This will help you stand out from the competition and establish a strong brand voice as a thought leader and industry expert. The key is to find the problem that hasn’t been solved and figure out how your visual content can help you own the solution. Just make sure that the area you decide to focus on ties back to your overall company goals and supports your unique product-market fit.
- Evaluate existing workflows. Think about the people (both internal and external), processes, and technologies that are currently involved or should be involved in helping you reach your goals. Consider what creative and marketing workflows are working and not working. And then get a game plan in place to help you streamline inefficiencies, foster collaboration, and get more out of your time and investment in visual content.
- Take a crawl, walk, run approach to execution. Execution is an important stage, and often where companies risk falling flat. Show progress at regular milestones before you sign yourself or your team up for additional visual asset creation and content commitments. It’s a marathon not a sprint, so be intentional with the visual assets and content you decide to create and test in-market.
- Establish success metrics and optimize regularly. On that same note, you need to identify the metrics that will determine the success of your efforts, so you can measure and optimize based on your findings. Creating visual content takes time, so make sure you know if teams are using your visual assets and if the visual content (or any content for that matter) is performing to your expectations. Not sure where to start? Here are some visual content metrics to consider.
Tools for successful visual content marketing
When it comes to technology, marketers have no shortage of tools to pick from. The problem however, is that many organizations end up bringing on a bunch of disparate technologies that work side-by-side rather than together. Multiple and specialized technologies are a good thing, but only if they compliment each other and create workflow efficiencies, reduce redundancy, and help you tell a consistent and accurate brand story.
Whether it's the technology you use for automating emails, your customer relationship management (CRM) system, or the solution you use to store your creative files and marketing content, you need to think about how you can leverage your technologies together to get more out of your marketing efforts (visual or other).
There’s no one answer, but many organizations find success with integrating a digital asset management (DAM) platform with their other technologies. Many even consider it their “core technology” that sits at the center of their systems and powers their entire marketing and creative ecosystem.
But why would you use a DAM system this way? DAM software enables you to develop a centralized library of visual assets and content that is searchable and ready to deploy across your teams and other systems. With your visual assets and content in one place, you essentially have a command center for your operations. This allows you to, for instance, share creative files with designers so they have access to the most recent, approved assets right in their creative and editing tools. It ensures your email and social marketing teams have the latest campaign images ready to go in their automation tools. And it gives you some much needed control. You can retire visual content instantly, and even automatically remove it from your digital channels. Plus, you gain visibility. You know who is using your visual content and if it’s working!
There are a lot of success stories about organizations leveraging DAM software to run or improve their visual content marketing efforts. Here are some examples of companies doing just this to move their business and their operations forward with visual content.
Hootsuite (case study)
Through an integration with their CMS, Hootsuite pulls visual content like white papers straight from their DAM system to their website. This reduces the back and forth between teams when there are minor changes made to marketing materials. It also allows Hootsuite to track views and downloads of this content in their DAM analytics to better inform their visual content strategy.
Johnsonville (case study)
Jonshonville uses their DAM system to house all of their valuable visual assets and content. Having one central, searchable place for teams to find what they need means teams no longer need to waste time digging through files and devices, and Johnsonville can protect their 75-year-old iconic brand.
Renewal by Andersen (case study)
One reason Renewal by Andersen invested in a DAM system was to ensure their large base of affiliate retailers used approved, high-quality photos in their local ads and flyers — not fuzzy snapshots that were damaging their brand reputation. Based on their DAM analytics, the investment is paying off, as teams are now viewing, downloading, and sharing approved visual assets from the system.
Houston Astros (case study)
Content analytics allowed the DAM admin for the Houston Astros to highlight just how much his organization relies on and benefits from photography. This was the justification he needed to get additional headcount and better support the right visual content efforts within the organization.
Ready to win with visual content marketing?
Whether you’re just getting started with visual content or you’ve been leveraging it in your marketing for quite some time, it’s important to have a long-term plan to help you get the most out of your efforts. As your team and visual content library grows, organization, access, control, and efficiency will remain critical elements in your business’s success.
If you’re interested in learning how DAM technology can help, we’re here for you. In fact, you can even test drive our DAM platform, the Widen Collective®. It’s fun and eye-opening. Ready to explore? Request your today.
Note: This article was originally published in October 2019 and has been updated to remain current.